In this ongoing series, Ian Blackout revisits Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, in a (roughly) chronological order of events and grouped (roughly) into story-arcs.
Rising Malevolence (2008)
Season 1, Episode 2. Written by Steven Melching, directed by Dave Filoni.
“Belief is not a matter of choice, but of conviction”.
With a series of attacks on Republic fleets leaving no survivors, rumours abound that the Separatists are employing a fearsome new weapon. Jedi master Plo Koon is sent to investigate while Anakin Skywalker takes his own unorthodox approach, his impressionable apprentice Ahsoka Tano in tow…
This early adventure in the Clone Wars library sees the dialogued debut, centre-stage no less, of Plo Koon, having been introduced to audiences sitting wordlessly on the Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace. The Kel Dor speaks Basic (i.e. English) from behind a ventilator mask, and is revealed to be the one who originally brought Ahsoka to the temple as an infant.
A slightly brooding start to a dramatic trilogy, ‘Rising Malevolence’ sees Plo Koon and a handful of troopers trapped in an escape vessel without power (including life-support), floating through the debris of a Separatist slaughter as battle droids jetpack their way around, cracking jokes as they prise open the helpless pods, exposing the inhabitants to hard-vacuum. Time, as well as the metallic minions, is their enemy.
As for the reason the lights went out in the first place? General Grievous’ new toy is the titular ship, The Malevolence, a subjugator-class cruiser which houses a new mega-ion cannon capable of disabling an entire fleet in one burst. A mobile version of the weapon used to secure the Rebellion’s escape at the battle of Hoth, this is the first chronological use of ion weaponry (in terms of screen canon) we’ve seen – assuming of course that we don’t include the Gungans’ booma projectiles from Episode I. Once the fleet has been crippled, the Malevolence’s array of turbolasers can destroy the ships in short order. The characters here don’t explicitly state that the ion cannon is an unknown quantity, but it certainly appears to be the first of this scale.
Speaking of speaking, the script of ‘Rising Malevolence’ is a purely functional affair, much like the episode itself. The pacing has a steadily upward approach, but taking place almost entirely in dark or cramped conditions gives it a claustrophobic feel over and above what’s needed to sell the mood of the story. By the time we add Anakin’s scholarly lecturing of his padawan, and her alternating eye-rolling and humility, the frozen plains of Hoth suddenly seem like a breezy holiday on sunny Scarif.
While it certainly features elements which would go on to be the backbone of The Clone Wars, this is an also-ran of an episode, and not a great follow-up to ‘Ambush‘…
Shadow of Malevolence (2008)
Season 1, Episode 3. Written by Steven Melching, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“Easy is the path to wisdom for those not blinded by ego.”
Having escaped the battle-site with Plo Koon and the Clonetroopers, Anakin organises a relation strike against the Separatist warship. Meanwhile, Count Dooku instructs General Grievous to use the ion cannon against the nearest Republic medical station. With the clones scrambling to evacuate who they can from the facility, the clock is ticking for Skywalker…
More action-oriented than the previous instalment, ‘Shadow of Malevolence’ references the Original Trilogy once again – this time with the introduction of Y-Wing bombers, the ships used by the Rebellion at the battle of Yavin. We also get a scripted nod to classic Star Wars with Plo Koon sagely adding “…from a certain point of view” to one of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s observations about the upcoming raid.
Bringing new things to the table though, a shortcut though an old smugglers’ route ushers in the magnificent nebray manta creatures: giant space-whales living in a nebula cloud, feeding off the minerals from dust, rock and passing ships. They’re distant cousins of the exogorth space-slug that almost digested the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back and a reminder that there are far weirder things in the galaxy alongside the ongoing war.
The camera work and editing in the final battle is pure A New Hope, and a real joy to watch. Although this is offset by the Republic forces’ pointed tutting at the attacking of a medical station (in case anyone watching didn’t know that was a bad thing) and the Plucky Chatter™ of the troops as they set off with a mixture of bravado and indignation. None of the clones specifically states they’re interested in a career in agriculture after the war, but the tone of their exchanges assures the audience that more than one of them will be Buying The Farm anyway.
It’s admirable that the series wears its love for films of the Second World War on its sleeve, but the line between homage and cliche can be perilously thin…
Destroy Malevolence (2008)
Season 1, Episode 4. Written by Steven Melching, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“A plan is only as good as those who see it through.”
Does what it says on the tin. With General Grievous’ flagship pursued in retreat after a thorough battering from Shadow Squadron, Padmé Amidala flies into the area on a tip from Chancellor Palpatine (are you sensing a theme yet?). With the senator taken as an impromptu hostage by the increasingly desperate Grievous, Anakin Skywalker boards the cruiser to rescue his wife…
Still situated in the agoraphobic emptiness of space, this third part of the trilogy carries on the slightly uncomfortable, airless feel. The rancor’s-share of the action takes place on the Malevolence itself, but the battleship is sparsely populated and disintegrating around our heroes’ ears. The combat is predominantly hand-to-hand this time around, with blasters and lightsabers being the order of the day.
And because of their introductory dialogue exchange in Revenge Of The Sith, we know that Skywalker and Grievous won’t come face to face in this episode which narratively predates the film. That’s not a huge bugbear in itself, but one which keeps cropping up throughout a series where Anakin and the droid-general are central players.
The other issue sneaking its foot in the door at this early stage is that Anakin and Padmé just aren’t that interesting when there’s also a war happening. The characters are fine when they have separate stories to be part of (or when they’re both in a larger setting), but the couple’s stolen moments of together-time with the Jedi threatening to walk round the corner at any moment soon become repetitive. Thinking about it, the problem could just be with Skywalker, but there’ll be plenty of time to examine that further down the line.
Scripted nods to the cinematic saga include Plo Koon’s “there he goes again, craving adventure and excitement” (about Kenobi, surprisingly), Anakin’s exchange with Obi-Wan ”Spinning isn’t flying…” “…But it’s a good trick!”, and General Grievous landing with a deft thud in front of the bearded Jedi and exclaiming “Hello there!”. One reference in an episode is cute, two might be pushing it, three is – well…
Overall, the Malevolence trilogy is a solid enough Clone Wars tale with dogfights, hyperspace and lightsaber battles. Yet it holds few surprises and is somehow smaller in scale than Star Wars should really be. If only we had some more ‘clone-centric’ stories…